I KEEP LOOKING for a term – the opposite of ‘a perfect storm’ – to describe the synergy when a series of good events and people accidentally come together to create an outcome that none could predict. That is what happened as a result of the rare combination of creative energy and intellectual rigour in teaching visual art in New South Wales. I was a school student in 1962 when the state’s great education revolution, the Wyndham Scheme, began to make an impact. Teachers were anxious but intensely focused as they faced huge changes in the curriculum. We were the first students to spend six years in high school, and the first to have major works of art marked externally. A generation later, when my children were at school, it was more relaxed and more methodical. They learnt about art through different frames of reference and produced process diaries to accompany their major works. Visual arts had become a pathway to thinking about concepts well beyond my adolescent experience.
As Australia inches towards a national curriculum in English, maths, history and science, arts education is put in the too-hard box. The arts may be increasingly important, but the challenge of designing a curriculum that covers the visual and performing arts, music and screen at varying levels of skill and analysis is daunting. A patchwork of different approaches has evolved in Australia – some world leading. A national curriculum needs to draw on the best, and find a way to navigate the jealously protected differences between states.
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